Portugal’s FIA Bajas World Cup event kicks off today with 415 teams registered from 20 nationalities. The 37th edition, which runs until Saturday, features Nasser Al-Attiyah, a five-time Dakar winner and two-time World Rally-Raid champion.
At the starting ceremony on Thursday evening, 415 teams will pass through the center of Portalegre, distributed by categories of Cars (112), Motorcycles (99), Quads (36), SSV (84), Promotion/Hobby (59), and Mini Baja (25).
The heavy rains of the last few weeks could increase the difficulty of the 439 kilometers timed for the cars (a total of 668.9 kilometers), 368.1 kilometers timed for the motorbikes, SSVs, and quads (a total of 524.2 kilometers), and 183.7 kilometers for the Promotion and Hobby categories (240.3 kilometers in total). As usual, the competition begins with the popular 3.7-kilometer Prologue at Herdade das Coutadas on Friday morning, which precedes a selective sector of 61.8 timed kilometers. On Saturday, the cars have two more selective sectors (totaling 373.5 kilometers), while the motorbikes, SSVs, and quads cover a single sector, 303 kilometers long.
The service park and the race's operational center are located at NERPOR, which will also host the final press conference, scheduled for 18:00 on Saturday, and the awards ceremony at 20:30.
The return of Nasser Al-Attiyah
The Baja Portalegre 500 is the penultimate event in the FIA Baja World Cup, ahead of the round in Dubai. Scorable for the world competition for drivers, co-drivers, teams, T3 drivers, T4 drivers, and T4 teams, this is also the most important round of the FPAK and FMP Portuguese Off-Road Championships.
On the car list, the highlight is Nasser Al-Attiyah, the current leader of the Bajas World Cup, who recently became a two-time World Rally-Raid champion at the Morocco Rally. The five-time Dakar winner will be making his debut at the wheel of a Prodrive Hunter, the very car with which Sébastien Loeb has shone in the World Rally-Raid Championship and which will be in action for the first time in Portugal. Despite the illustrious track record of the Qatari driver and prince, which includes world titles in rallying, TT, and a bronze medal at the London Olympics in 2012, Al-Attiyah has never managed to win the Baja Portalegre 500.
One of Al-Attiyah's main opponents promises to be João Ferreira, who in 2022 became the youngest winner of Portalegre and an FIA World Cup race, now behind the wheel of a Mini JCW T1+ with a biodiesel-fueled engine. The former national and European champion, who recently won the Morocco Rally in the T4 category with Filipe Palmeiro, is already well acquainted with the petrol-powered Toyota Hilux T1+, which includes names such as Saudi Yazeed Al-Rajhi, navigated by Timo Gottschalk, or national champions Tiago Reis and Valter Cardoso, who arrive in Portalegre motivated by winning their third CPTT title. With extensive experience in Portalegre, João Ramos (navigated by Jorge Carvalho) and Miguel Barbosa (with Paulo Fiúza) are also contenders for the top spots, also with their Hilux T1+.
Last year, the SSVs in the T3 category were just 21.7 seconds away from an unprecedented overall win in Portalegre, through João Dias and João Miranda (Can-Am), who will be back this year, as will Luís Portela de Morais and Tomás Neves (ORT3), who completed the overall podium in 2022. In this category, there are several candidates for a top spot, such as Armindo Araújo and Luís Ramalho (Can-Am), who led the overall race last year and are currently leading the CPTT in T3. Ricardo Porém, the only driver to win the Baja Portalegre 500 four times in a row (between 2014 and 2017), is making his T3 debut with a Can-Am, on his way to his 15th participation! And what about the 33 participations (out of 37 possible) of Carlos Silva, the renowned navigator who this year is accompanying the young Algarvian Francisco Barreto in a Toyota Hilux T1+...
Titles for the grab
In the motorbikes, there will be no repeat of the thrilling duel between António Maio and Simão Ventura last year, decided in favor of the multiple national champion by an incredible 0.1 second after 414.2 kilometers. Martim Ventura was recently injured, but the list of motorbikes has an extensive, quality squad with the TT3 national title still to be decided. António Maio (Yamaha) has already renewed his title as absolute champion and is looking for his ninth victory in Portalegre, on a weekend when Sebastian Bühler returns to the national races with the official Hero. Other highlights include the Honda riders - Gustavo Gaudêncio, Fábio Magalhães, João Duarte, Gonçalo and Salvador Amaral -, the Husqvarna riders - Bruno Santos, Miguel Castro, and Daniel Jordão - and Bernardo Megre (KTM), David Megre (Kawasaki), Tomás Dias (Fantic) and André Sérgio (Beta). The TT3 title will be contested between Bruno Santos and Fábio Magalhães.
In the quads, João Vale won last year and is in Portalegre on his Can-Am Renegade XXC, but this year the fight for the championship title involves Luís Fernandes (Yamaha), the championship leader after three wins, and the youngsters Rafael Carvalho (Yamaha) and Rodrigo Alves (Yamaha).
The list of candidates for victory in the SSVs is extensive and includes three former national champions who are in direct contention for the title: João Monteiro, Pedro Santinho Mendes, and Roberto Borrego, all on Can-Am. Gonçalo Guerreiro, the defending champion and winner of the last two editions in Portalegre, leads the Polaris offensive with his brother Tiago Guerreiro, while Luis Cidade, Hélder Rodrigues, and Nelson Caxias, all on Can-Am, also have arguments to fight for victory. In the Stock championship, the title will be decided between Nelson Saramago (Polaris), Rui Serpa (Can-Am), and Paulo Fernandes (Yamaha), the latter being the Portuguese representative in the European SuperFinale of the Yamaha YXZ1000R Cup, which is being held in Portugal for the fourth time.
Mini Baja looking to the future
The ACP event includes the Mini Baja category, aimed at young riders aged between 8 and 16, divided into the Infantile, Initiate, and Juvenile classes. Part of the FMP Mini TT Championship, it's an important moment for those who aspire to follow in the footsteps of the national TT and Rally-Raid stars who made history in Portalegre and the Dakar. Domingos Cunha (Yamaha) and Bernardo Caiado (Gas Gas) lead the Youth and Beginners classes, while Francisco Porto Nunes (Yamaha) is already champion among the Children.
The Mini Baja route includes a prologue on Friday and a selective sector of around 85 kilometers (with a stop in the middle for refueling) on Saturday.
Baja Portalegre 500 is an Eco-Event
The Baja Portalegre 500 has an Environmental Sustainability Plan that confers "Eco-event" status on the ACP event. In partnership with the company Valnor and the municipalities of Portalegre, Ponte de Sor, Nisa, Gavião, Crato, Chamusca, Alter do Chão, and Abrantes, the organization aims to achieve measurable environmental sustainability objectives throughout the event, in line with the FIA and FIM environmental codes.
As in previous years, the work carried out with Valnor is aimed at reducing the amount of waste produced, separating packaging and selectively collecting and recycling waste. At the different venues where the event takes place, particularly in the areas with the largest crowds (NERPOR, Prologue, and Show Zones), containers and recycling bins are made available for sorting waste, and participants, assistance teams, and spectators are encouraged to contribute to the correct separation of waste. Local training and awareness-raising activities are also organized to publicize best recycling practices.
At the end of the event, the amount collected from the waste produced during the event, handed over by the ACP to Valnor, will go entirely to the Por